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March 24, 2010



Dalmia's piece is so full of exaggerations and historical amnesia that when I read it I mostly hear "blah blah blah I can't believe we lost so they must have cheated." The country was not "deeply unwilling." Divided in half, yes, not overwhelmingly in opposition. She mentions *representative* government and then talks as if Gallup pollsters should be deciding the passage of bills. Scott Brown took the position (as Nathan might have approved) that he was against national legislation because he regarded it as a threat to MA's, not because he thought it was a government takeover (the context in which Dalmia cites the import of his electoral victory). She says "The reality, once all the double counting and fantasy savings are eliminated, is that it will add $562 billion," but her link doesn't say anything about that, nor did my quick googling of the figure turn up any corroboratory stories. Then she says "They are poised to use the so-called nuclear option or "reconciliation" to square the House and the Senate bills." The 'nuclear option' in congressional discourse has referred to overturning filibuster rules, not reconciliation. She says "But reconciliation is meant exclusively for budgetary matters--not ramrodding sweeping social legislation on a party-line vote," which is sort of true of its original intent. Specifically, it was intended to allow the passage of budgets. However, it has been used in other ways all along, as anyone who would bother to consult Wikipedia would discover. She says "Americans are feeling a growing panic," but polls don't seem to support that. Rather, it would seem that main panickers are those on the political right accustomed to political victory whenever GOP party discipline holds. And certainly some on the infotainment right (e.g. Beck) seem willing to foment panic. But that's echo-chamber stuff.

What contemptible, hysterical bunk.

Finally, Nathan seems not to have realized what I meant when I said that the bill acts as "incumbent" legislation. Specifically I meant that GOP legislators can now run on changing/repealing/fixing the bill when contributing their bit to the government's direction regarding healthcare. Before, there was no political motivation to participate because Obama and the Dems would have gotten the credit for a good bill anyway. Thus, the bill's passage actually makes it more tenable for GOP legislators to make an impact without marginalizing themselves or having to pretend that the status quo was fine. By all means, change away. But not like this:

Nathan Smith

No, it's not "contemptible hysterical bunk."

The source of Dalmia's $562 billion number appears to be the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/opinion/21holtz-eakin.html?th&emc=th

Polls do support the "growing panic" claim: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/obama_and_democrats_health_care_plan-1130.html. And 55% favor repeal: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/current_events/healthcare/march_2010/55_favor_repeal_of_health_care_bill

Dalmia's remark that "Yes, Americans do care about 'process,' Mr. President. It's another name for representative government" seems to be a reference to Obama's unworthy evasions in his interview with Brett Baier, at a time when the "deem-and-pass" shenanigan was being contemplated, and Obama was saying that people don't care about 'process' issues. Dalmia's response to that is exactly right.

As for the "fraudulent piece of legislation based on fraudulent thinking backed by fraudulent facts enacted through a fraudulent process"-- maybe Dalmia's strongest charge-- we'll see how true it turns out to be. I can't really see how it could *not* be true, given that Obama made promises like that if you like your health insurance you can keep it, and I don't see how that's possible if insurance companies have to accept all comers. But in general ObamaCare seems so crazy that I'm hoping I just don't understand something about it and it will actually work better than the laws of economics seem to allow, and if so, maybe Obama can be absolved of that charge.

Failing that, there's always the stupidity defense. Obama may not have been lying because he didn't know what he was talking about.


Oh, well, Holtz-Eakin is certainly non-partisan*. And certainly a bunch of polls showing what we've already discussed demonstrates "rising panic", just like opinion polls showing people opposed to the surge was rising panic. In fact, the post-pass polls have shown more support for the bill than before, but that's only because Americans who understand what is really going on know that the government is listening to those who oppose the bill and will bar dissenters from getting medical care. The exception is Rasmussen, which continues its trend of speaking truth to power by giving very different numbers from all the other pollsters, who are all liberal stooges. Also, deem-and-pass is the thermo-nuclear option, which the GOP never ever *ever* used more than a hundred times since 2000.

Seriously, it's true that process has been a winning issue because the voting audience almost never has any real knowledge on the matter and thus pretty much have to accept pundits' claims at face value, as Nathan appears to have done.

It's contemptible hysterical bunk and it's frankly scary, though not as scary as stuff like this: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/spengler/2010/03/26/cultural-obamalypse-the-attack-on-the-pope/ in which revelations of the Pope's apparently close involvement in failing to respond to child molestation in subordinates is somehow Obama's fault. I'm not a fear-monger and I think this stuff will die down once time passes and nothing horrible happens, but it really does seem like I'm having a harder and harder time reaching my interlocutors on the right. I mean, we'll still have one of the most private healthcare systems in the developed world, and there doesn't seem to be anything going on but some rough politics. Much to the outrage of leftists, Obama pushed hard to get bills that at least a few Republicans would be willing to sign. The Dems didn't use any shenanigans to delay seating Brown. They did not use automatic execution, etc etc. A fair person could point to any number of similarly contentious bills that were also very important, including the medicare benefit act which didn't even have the decency of attempting to fund itself.

I guess if it's all political theater, I guess I'm fine with it - the left certainly has done the same (to their cost!). But I don't want people to really disengage and decide the social contract is broken because they lost a political contest.

*I'm being snarky about the source, of course, but I'm not saying he's inherently suspect. I just think it's dubious to uncritically accept an analysis from such a source without noting the source or finding independent backing for the analysis.

Nathan Smith

re: "But I don't want people to really disengage and decide the social contract is broken because they lost a political contest."

We didn't leave the social contract, the social contract left us. But don't worry, you still have the guns.




Who still has the guns?! I certainly don't personally. The government still has it's monopoly on violence, I suppose, though the people whose job it is to execute violence on behalf of the state are not exactly leftist storm troops. There is the awesome power of the purse, of course, but as Nathan points out, the penalties for disobeying our liberal overlords on health care aren't very steep.

Seriously. This kind on hyperbole is almost insulting. I joined the Army under a commander in chief with whom I agreed with on very few political matters, and despite my deep, deep bitterness and occasional despair, I think one can hold me innocent of ever saying we were living in a banana republic or that we had to revolt in some way. I lost friends over it BECAUSE THEY DIED, and now it's ragnarok because the democrats passed a poor health care bill? Get a sense of perspective.


Unfortunately the reality is that in a nearly bankrupt country, when millions upon millions have no jobs, the president first passes a stimulus that does not stimulate and that rapidly pushes the country further down the road to bankruptcy, then manufactures a "crisis" in health care. We spend a year debating this "crisis" while the national debt and unemployment get worse and worse, and then, in the very week when social security goes in the red years ahead of the predicted date, he forces another huge entitlement through congress in the slimiest of slimy ways. However "reconciliation" has been used before, it has NEVER been used for major legislation like this. Wise leaders have always known that bipartisan support and hence willingness to compromise is necessary in such casesbecause broad support of the electorate is necessary if it is to succeed. Even the most liberal of republicans, like Olympia Snow, who really wanted to sign on to some sort of health care plan, HAD to drop out of this process early on because it was simply too corrupt to support. BO's henchmen in the house and senate have stopped at nothing to muscle this through against the will of the people. I know politics is slimy, but this is far slimier than I have ever seen in my 50 plus years. Then, during the same week that he foisted this disaster on the American people with outrageous lies, while Iran is rapidly developing nuclear weapons, BO treats the Israeli PM as if HE were not only the enemy, but a petulent child. I live in California where we have some experience with irresponsible, moonbeam government and it hasn't worked out so well for us. So yes, I would say there IS a rising sense of panic. I see no other sensible reaction.

Nathan Smith

Oh, I have a sense of perspective. I've just been reading Edward Gibbon's *Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,* and I've been struck by both the similarities and the differences. The similarity is that a glorious constitution is unraveling, that people look back fondly to a lost golden age of republican virtue as faction and usurpation tear it apart, degrading the constitution and the rule of law. But in the US today it's still, for the moment, unthinkable to have US troops fighting against other US troops, whereas by the 3rd century AD, that had been going on for centuries in Rome. We're not nearly as far gone as that yet, praise God.

I didn't say we had to "revolt in some way." It was *civil* disobedience of which I was expressing approval. Well, maybe that's a "revolt in some way," but it's not a violent one. It's even one with a proud American tradition behind it, from the Underground Railroad to the civil rights movement. I certainly oppose armed revolt or insurgency, including the vandalism and the threats against representatives that have taken place in the last few days, though they are probably an inevitable result of the way the Obama regime is assaulting the fabric of consensual government.

The fact that "the penalties for disobeying our liberal overlords on health care aren't very steep," though a relief in one way, is part of the reason that this bill undermines the rule of law. It seems like an invitation to mass lawbreaking. In a representative democracy, the operations of the system of law and justice system should attempt to make it in the interests of the citizen to obey the law. They should not turn law-abiding people into suckers. Is a law which rewards people for breaking it a real law? But without the rule of law you can't have real democracy, because the real, effective laws are not then made by constitutional, legislative processes but through the caprices of the bureaucracy.

re: "I joined the Army under a commander in chief with whom I agreed with on very few political matters..."

Yes. You did that *voluntarily.* You consented. Therein lies the difference. Most American voters did not vote for any of today's Democratic congressmen or senators. A majority of voters, though not of the citizenry, did vote for Barack Obama, but he promised to cut taxes, which he is now raising, and that those who liked their health insurance can keep it, which if it turns out to be true will probably mitigate much of the current rage, but which seems like an economic impossibility given the way ObamaCare transforms the way the health insurance industry has to operate. And not only did he oppose taxing employer health benefits, but he attacked John McCain for supporting them, and this was one of the major themes of his ads in swing states. Moreover, he campaigned on a platform of "new politics" which was supposed to exclude the kind of backroom deals etc. which have become so egregious in recent months. So a vote for Barack Obama can't be read as a vote for *this* health care reform, and if anything was probably, for many, a vote *against* it.

The Founders understood that while citizens are happy to outsource administrative tasks to elected representatives, and leave much to the representative's judgment, fundamental changes in the relationship between man and state need a more robust and explicit form of popular consent. That's why they established a special process of constitutional amendment. Unfortunately, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, major changes were made in the nature of our government without going through the process of constitutional amendment. This was a degradation of the constitution, and left long-lasting bitterness among conservatives and has introduced a certain permanent incoherence into the important field of interpreting the law. But at least major changes like Social Security, Medicare, welfare reform, and the prescription drug benefit, were passed with bipartisan support in the legislature and majority support among the public. And the moderate administrations of the 1950s, and the experience of WWII, were able to restore a sense of national unity and the legitimacy of the social contract.

Now we have a situation where a faction temporarily entrusted with large majorities in a crisis has used that authority to enact an ideological agenda unrelated to that crisis, without bipartisan support, without the support of the majority of the public, seemingly without having read the bill and being ignorant even about its contents let alone its consequences, all in contradiction of campaign promises.

There are a couple more things worth saying here about consensual government. First, *immigration* is good for consensual government, because immigrants, by making the decision to come here, consent by a specific action to live under our laws, as natives do not. Second, *federalism* is good for consensual government, for the same reason, namely that since people frequently among states, and since moving among states is always permissible and usually feasible, a much larger share of the population has consented by a specific action to live under state laws than to live under federal laws. Majoritarian democracy is not nearly as good, for there is no really good answer to the question of why minorities should accept the say-so of majorities. Of course, decisions have to be made somehow, and you can't always require large supermajorities to get things done, but to allow for as much "voting-with-the-feet" as possible is an invaluable asset to the legitimacy of democratic constitutions. That's why RomneyCare does not constitute the same kind of threat to liberty that ObamaCare does.

Nathan Smith

Oh, one more thing. *Deficits* are also very dubious from the perspective of consensual government. On the one hand, having a balanced budget all the time is not a particularly good way to run a polity. Government debt can be useful in financial markets, and in crises, mostly war but also arguably recession/depression, public borrowing can be crucial for the welfare of the economy. Also, it's better for the government to have more liabilities than assets, because for the government to own productive assets, directly or indirectly, tends to distort the economy more. On the other hand, we're in a place now where the national debt amounts to tens of thousands of dollars per American. Newborn infants in no way consented to that burden, yet the obligation to pay it is imposed on them. Where's the consent of the governed in that? It is only a partial defense to say that they inherit lots of good things from preceding generations, too. Yes, they'll inherit a lot of houses and highways, and institutions too, and for the time being-- although at the rate we're going it might not hold for long-- these have a higher net present value than the government's debt obligations. But newborn infants don't agree to accept the houses and highways and institutions in return for assuming the burden of the debt. And you can't give someone a gift and then say, "Now that you've accepted the gift, you're obligated to pay me half its value back in cash."

As long as the debt is kept to the low levels mandated by the needs of shrewd public finance and financial market liquidity, this is a minor issue and doesn't really undermine the legitimacy of the social contract. But runaway deficits on the scale that even the Bush administration ran, let alone the Obama administration, are in effect making promises on behalf of future generations who have not consented to them, to be made good by armed agents of the state coercing them to pay. I think this is a big part of the reason for the widespread panic about the fate of the republic. And of course, lie upon lie upon lie notwithstanding, ObamaCare makes it worse.


Pardon me for my all-caps, but I was in a terrible mood last night and I just couldn't take Nathan's melodramatic imputation that he is crushed under the heel of a tyrannical state ready to use violence to destroy political opposition. I usually adjust Nathan's rhetoric to account for his more romantical disposition and style but I wasn't up to it.

Anyway, my wife and I got to consent once. Then the rules changed. Then they changed again. The understandings we had when we joined were not at all what they were later, and until Gates replaced Rumsfeld, it seemed we served very much at the political convenience of the executive branch. But I don't mean to refight those battles, just to recall the circumstances in which, for example, my wife chose to accept stop-loss and deploy to Iraq again rather than taking one of the myriad non-violent ways out (which quite a few people urged on her, including her mother). We thought it was an injustice and it was definitely not what we'd consented to, but those are the breaks. There wasn't anything really *unconstitutional* about it, it just wasn't fair, and meanwhile there was work to do.

So there's this election later this year, and everyone gets to vote as usual. Then there's another one in 2012, when the public can even change presidents if it pleases. If they don't like the bill or the way it was passed, they're free to express that preference at the ballot box. Then the bill can be repealed, modified etc, and so on. Why would one panic, if one is sure that the majority shares their preferences? Is there some unstated expectation that the votes will be rigged, or that the president will write signing statements that set aside law passed by the newly elected legislators? I know there are is a sizeable segment of the right that believes ACORN stole the election, apparently because this is the only way they can believe that Democrats could achieve higher vote tallies than their opponents, but I had always assumed that folks on this blog wouldn't waste much time with such conspiracy theories.

Now, if you think that the population actually has disastrous preferences, then I can certainly understand how that would inspire dread: been there, done that, and it (in my opinion) went almost as badly as my worst fears. Certainly there were plenty of leftists who regarded the social contract as ruptured in the Bush years*, but of course I wasn't one of them, and be certain I argued with them at the time. Some of them even thought the 2004 election was stolen, but of course once I heard someone say that I generally declined to bother with them. After 2006, leftists were outraged that the Democratic congress couldn't get anything past Bush and once again some seemed to think everything was irrevocably torn. But again I didn't for a moment consider joining their hysteria about Emperor Bush (or whatever the epithet was), however much I might have argued against Bush policies &etc. Right or wrong, sometimes things just don't go your way.

I don't think everyone who isn't a moderate is a crazy extremist, of course. I consider Nathan to be pretty far to the right, though not particularly doctrinaire about it (or I wouldn't bother commenting here). I also think he's tendentious at times, but so are we all; partiality is a condition of humanity.

But lately, it really has begun to feel like we've gone down the rabbit hole a bit. Dalmia's article is hopefully just fearmongering theater, but it seems like otherwise rational people are turning into Glenn Beck, giving broadcasts under a giant picture of Obama with a Hitler mustache. It's just ludicrous. I can't decide if people are genuinely convinced that Democrats and liberals are scheming to turn the US into Venezuela or if they're just big babies who can't handle losing, but either way it's shocking to see it intruding here. It's just all out of proportion to what has actually happened.

*They used the term "banana republic" all the time, and while it might have a funny riff on the 2000 election, if I encountered someone who really believed it, I knew there wasn't much we could talk about.

Nathan Smith

Well, I agree with you on stop-loss: it was wrong, but civil disobedience wouldn't have done any good. Here it might.

Dalmia's article is not "fearmongering theater," it's a serious article backed up by facts and reasoning. If you want to communicate you have to stop being dismissive of points of view you disagree with.

Bush did rupture the social contract, not so much of the United States as of the world order. I supported that because I thought the world constitution was lousy, legitimizing totalitarian dictators, and needed shaking up, even at great risk. But the US health care system was not Saddam's Iraq. This is recklessness.

Yes, we can throw out the Dems at the next elections, but elections aren't much good if politicians break their campaign promises and defy the will of the people. Elections are crude instruments: you have a binary choice with lots of things bundled together. Democracy only works well when politicians regard themselves as servants of the people and try to do their will. They should have the humility to say, "Hmm, this seems like a good idea to me, but polls say people hate it, so maybe they see something I don't. OK, never mind." Not always. But on big domestic issues. A lot of people think Bush broke his campaign promise of a "humble" foreign policy, and that's actually true, although 9/11 gives him some excuse for the change of heart. But still. If both parties are going to ignore the will of the people, how do we hold them accountable?


Liberty, prosperity, stable society and good governance are far more fragile than we realize. If we have irresponsible people doing irresponsible things at the top it puts us all at grave risk. Nations do decline, they do sometimes fall, and, like Argentina, they sometimes ride high and then give themselves over to bad governance and terrible things happen. It behooves us all to worry about the kind of leaders we have, the debt we pass on to our children, the larger picture of the kind of culture we want to live in and perpetuate. I believe BO wants to turn this country into a European style state with extremely high taxes, chronic unemployement, lackluster business atmosphere, a very low birth rate and weak or no military. The only thing is--we wouldn't have America to defend us because we are America. Yes--I will do all I can to vote dems and him out of office, but as he has already proven, he is going to use every ruse and trick and lie he can to turn the country into what he thinks it should be. Saul Alinsky playbook--it's the ends that matter. But the thing is--it's not just the ends that matter. Bad means lead to bad ends. Using his deceitful means, BO might--already has--achived some of his bad ends. We might be stuck with them forever. At the very least, we have wasted a lot of energy we might have spent fixing problems like unemployment on a disastrous health care bill that will cost a lot more energy, if we are blessed by heaven, to repeal.
People who are moderates on either side, left or right are great and get along on many issues. The problem is that moderate liberals don't really perceive the dangers of the left left because they agree with some of it and can't believe anything really bad would really happen. Well it can. People have always worked to build consensus in this country and it has kept us close to the center. BO is not trying to do that. He is trying to transform our country into something that I don't think even garden-variety liberals want it to be, but since they can't see what he is really doing, he might succeed. That is why many of us are in a panic.

Nathan Smith

By the way, Nato, sorry to have upset you. I definitely have an addiction to sharp rhetoric, which you charitably describe as "romantical disposition and style," and you're a sport to put up with it as much as you do. No, I'm not "crushed under the heel of a tyrannical state"; the title of this post is just being colorful, or, if you will, patriotic paranoia; the vigilance needed to defend liberty. "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice," it has been said. But I have a fortunate, favored existence, praise God, and I recognize that. And troubled times have their uses too. They remind us "trust ye not in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation." (Psalms 146:3) And "do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:19-21) Whatever becomes of the American republic, I am, by the grace of God, a citizen of a much older republic, with a constitution of wisdom, love, and mercy, which will last until long after the American republic has fallen, "and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." The more fool I, then, if I should for a single moment panic, or succumb to fear or discouragement.


I wouldn't worry about upsetting me qua upsetting *me,* though I might say that the point at which I'm struggling not to be upset is probably the point at which most interlocutors even remotely left of center have stopped listening entirely. Though occasionally I just get upset because it seems like Nathan should have googled the actual figures on something rather than speculating. That's personal preference, though; I'm a compulsive researcher to the point that even when writing fiction I spend more than twice as much time checking sources than I do actually outputting words. I also do all my own taxes, and my own investment projections and a whole lot of other nerdy stuff* that can make me pretty pedantic (as well as distract me from getting done what I'm supposed to be doing, like eating lunch). Anyone who's been to dinner with me knows that I'm totally incapable of leaving an answerable question unanswered or a verifiable claim unverified if Google is available, and thus at some point my iPhone will come out and start surfing. Anyway, I digress badly. What I wanted to say is that if I was *really* upset for more than a few minuts, I wouldn't comment any more. I'm not one of those "someone on the internet is wrong" sorts of fellows. I used to comment on the Shakespeare's Sister blog because I liked some of their work and thought some of their other stuff was based on misunderstandings. At first I thought maybe I was actually contributing something, but after a while it became clear that they were too far to the left for me to reach them. It was sad, because I still think they're smart, talented people. They're just too far off in their own ideological cocoon for engagement to be fruitful. I regard Nathan as a friend even though we've never interacted with more than text, so feeling like we couldn't engage would be truly upsetting.

In other news, I put up a prescriptive post that 9amongst other things) relies heavily on the power of econometric analysis. I hope Nathan could take a moment to offer his thoughts:

Alternately, I could clean it up a bit and just post it here. I certainly would like to see how it goes down with a more conservative audience, though I do a lot of number-picking and mechanism-assuming that warrants substantive analysis ahead of rhetorical review.

*Such as writing posts like this:


In other news, I just did a major review of the state of alternative energy, and it was massively disappointing. I had given up on nuclear power, thinking that by the time anything came on line the prices of renewables and all that would have dropped enough to have undercut the value of nuclear, but a closer look at the latest numbers in deployed projects makes me think that it's either coal or nuclear for at least one more generation.


Regarding alternative energy (alternative to carbon-based fuels), isn't it obvious that all energy must either come from the Sun, nuclear fusion in the Earth's core, or nuclear fission of heavy materials? All currently-known alternative sources must be based on one of these three mechanisms. And of these three mechanisms, the most efficient and energy dense is nuclear fission. Nuclear fissible materials could someday be a scarce resource, but nuclear power is clearly the best short-term solution (unless you're worried about nuclear proliferation).

There might be other ways to harness energy at the quantum level using clever geometries and symmetries, but at this point, it's all sci-fi.


Really quite good:
I just read pretty much the whole associated book in one sitting. It's an analysis an engineer can love. There's very little economics in it, but its really great to see what the real possibilities are, abstracted from quibbling over cost projections. The short answer is that the 80% solutions boil down to nuclear and possibly solar farms in deserts closer to the equator. Other possibilities can help, but those are the 20% solutions.

Of particular note to me was the quantity of recoverable fissile material plausibly (though perhaps not economically) available, which is many times larger than I'd appreciated. Both electric cars and rail can get more savings than I'd appreciated*. Another item that impressed me was how horrible currently extant "clean" technologies are. My favorite was Earthrace's "eco-boat" that runs on biodiesel, which was about as energy efficient in transporting passengers over distance as the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship, as long as the QE2 was towing several more empty ships of its size behind it.

I remember at the end of the 90s I was disgusted with the environmentalist movement for being idiotic about figuring what would actually be good ways of tackling the various problems. Well, it would appear that it hasn't come as far as I'd thought. Sure, there are increasing numbers of converts from Greenpeace and whatnot, but while the back-to-nature hippies have definitely lost control of the movement, the gadgeteers that have supplanted them aren't helping that much either.

Sorry for going off topic so far, but my comprehensive review of the state of energy has been a shocker to me, as I'd not come close to putting all the pieces together recently.

*Electric cars seem to be able to save about 80% of transport energy relative to gasoline ICE, comparing favorably to the negative 150% 'savings' of some hydrogen powered prototypes. Electric rail saves up to 98%.

Joyless Moralist

I'm probably less committed to democracy than anybody here, but it seems to me that there are more or less 3 sorts of justifications available to those responsible for political action.

1) "It was what I promised to do." Beyond the good inherent in keeping promises generally, this is a particularly strong argument if the promise was part of what got the candidate elected, in which case the people have, in a sense, approved the plan. But this, as Nathan has explained already, was a violation of multiple campaign promises.

2) "The people want it." But a majority don't, and for a change this serious, you'd really want, not just a majority but a strong majority to feel well justified in proceeding. That's particularly the case in domestic policy, where the people being polled are also the ones most directly affected by the change.

3) "It's the right thing to do." Presumably that still carries some weight. But this isn't a good thing to do. This new bill is foolish and irresponsible, and debt and further social decay will be the fruits of it.

So anyway, I don't know what exactly it takes to push a respected government over the "banana republic" line, but I do know that the Democrats have betrayed the American public in a deep, and deeply damaging, way. Disengagement from society doesn't seem to me like such a strange reaction.


1) Nathan pointed out the ways in which Obama's campaign rhetoric differs from the actual bill, but it would seem that the differences are that the bill that eventuated was close to the (conservative) plans that he criticized while running. So, if he violated campaign promises, it was in cleaving to the center rather than carrying out the more radical plans he'd promised.

2) A majority seem to want some sort of change. The bill that eventuated isn't to peoples' taste, of course. But as mentioned, some people think it's too radical, some people think it's too conservative. Sometimes compromise pleases nobody.

3) I agree it's foolish and irresponsible, but I think a) politics being what it is, it's the best we're likely to get b) it's better than nothing at all and c) it can be fixed.

As for betrayal and all that, I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean. Why have they *betrayed* the American public, as opposed to wrongheadedly served the American public ill or whatever? And why would disengagement make sense? How does that follow from the political party in power doing something unpopular? "Oh, the other guys did something tricky to pass a law my faction doesn't like and think will eventually cost more than advertised, so we're going to try and nullify it." I mean, if you think that political redress will be denied in the future a la Venzuela, I can see going there. Otherwise, I don't get it.

Nathan Smith

The reasons to nullify it, of course, are:

(a) The *status quo ante* was/is better than the new law, and

(b) Laws shouldn't be passed in this fashion, and so it's a useful precedent to show the political class that this kind of politics doesn't pay off.


B) seems an excellent argument for staying engaged

Joyless Moralist

As far as betrayal goes, it seems to me that governing badly is a kind of betrayal, but especially if you think (as I do) that the Democrats are mostly doing this because they're in pursuit of some warped little ideal of their own, and in a sense really aren't serving the people at all. That's using the power entrusted to them for bad, which is a betrayal of the American people.

As far as disengagement goes, the problem is that entitlement programs are so, so difficult to reverse. People become dependent on them, and they undermine the social structure to the point where it's impossible to elect anyone with the political will to reverse the damage. Further, this is an entitlement of a particularly invasive kind, which in a sense changes the whole relationship between citizen and state. It's an indignity much greater than what we suffered with the passage of welfare laws or social security.

There comes a point where you feel that the things one loves most about this country have been so completely undermined/destroyed that it's just not worth trying to make it great anymore. I'm not definitely saying that such a point has been reached, but I don't think it's ridiculous to feel that way.

Nathan Smith

In the late Roman empire there came a time when many people gave up trying to sustain the old empire and started retreating into the wildernesses and deserts to be with God. The ultimate "disengagement." Initially they became hermits, but quite soon there were enough of them to start forming monastic communities. And in the end it was they who did the world by far the most good. They alone managed to preserve much of what was best in the old, dying civilization. They kept alive the flame of literacy, they copied the manuscripts, but more important they preserved certain values, gentleness and justice and humility and the primacy of the individual conscience in the face of the demands of tyranny, amidst the carnal excesses of the barbarians who were overrunning Europe.

America is not in such a state that it's time to abandon it (not even close I think) but I think it is good at a time like this to reduce, as it were, one's moral/psychic/emotional investment in it, and in that sesne to "disengage." To try to change the course of things is not as futile as saving the old Roman empire probably was. Above all, we can vote. But it doesn't take much "engagement" to vote; just show up on the first Tuesday in November or whenever it is. This year it doesn't take any real engagement to decide whom to vote for, either: the imperative of empowering the GOP to rescue the country from Democratic excess and arrogance is too obvious.

Another reason to pay attention to politics is for inspiration. Bush's speeches in particular, and McCain's RNC speech last year, were ennobling to listen to, offering soaring visions of freedom and patriotism. By contrast, the politics of the past year and a half has been unedifying.

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